Income inequality, ticket issues and the ghost of COVID
While the opening days of this year’s Cannes Film Festival were dominated by technical issues and a lack of clear themes, last weekend a message emerged from filmmakers from around the world gathered here – that of global inequality of income and the deadly legacy of racial discrimination.
Two of the biggest standing ovations went to a pair of competing films that used very different styles to examine income inequality in the United States and around the world.
James Gray’s “Armageddon Time” is a coming-of-age story based on the director’s memories of a childhood growing up in Queens, New York, but the director took on a genre best known for sentiment and drama. used to cast a keen eye on the widening chasm between rich and poor in the United States. The character who is essentially young Gray (Banks Repeta) has a privilege he takes for granted, and he ends up at a tony private school where the people he meets include Donald Trump’s father, Fred, and his sister. , Maryanne. (The school is not named, but Gray attended Kew-Forest School, as did Donald and his sister Maryanne.)
And of course, the film’s title sounds a warning to the world – we reap what we sow.
“Armageddon Time” is a memoir as a political statement, as Gray made clear during his Cannes press conference. “How did we get here?” he said. “Where are there, like, two people who own everything and a group of authoritarians trying to take over the planet?”
Ruben Ostlund’s “Triangle of Sadness,” meanwhile, is a satirical comedy as a political statement, a booze-and-vomit-soaked film that sets its widest sequences on a $250 million luxury yacht. It’s the final scene from “Monty Python’s Meaning of Life” mixed with Lina Wertmuller’s “Swept Away,” an gutting of how we enshrine inequality while insisting everyone is equal. (By the way, the “triangle of sadness” is apparently that dot in the middle of a runway model’s forehead that needs Botox.)
Another film that highlighted these same inequalities, while highlighting the lack of privilege that is the reality of most people, is “Rodeo” by young filmmaker Lola Quivoron. The story follows a rebellious young woman – her own kind of sociopath – as she joins a gang of motorbike thieves in France – young men of mostly African and Muslim descent – using crime as a means of get out of poverty.
Before these films, the festival was dominated by things that are not on the screens of the festival halls: the war in Ukraine which caused some filmmakers to criticize Cannes’ policy of not banning Russian filmmakers and journalists; a new ticketing system that created huge headaches for festival-goers; and the specter of COVID-19, which has been largely ignored but is definitely on people’s minds.
And then there were those fighter jets that buzzed the Croisette and rattled the windows of Cannes ahead of the premiere of “Top Gun: Maverick,” which brought its biggest movie star, Tom Cruise, to the festival and what which will certainly be his biggest source of income. There’s nothing like the power of the American army to launch a festival dedicated to international auteur cinema!
(To be honest, the jets that flew over the city trailing red, white and blue smoke could did so to honor the colors of the French tricolor.)
For the bulk of the attendees, perhaps, the ticketing situation was initially the biggest mess. In order to avoid huge queues and control attendance, the festival scrapped its old system, in which Cannes pass holders could gain access to screenings by simply showing their color-coded badges, with each color representing a different level of access. This year, having a badge is no longer enough: you now have to log in and navigate the Cannes ticketing system to secure virtual tickets in advance.
But the system barely worked for the first few days, barring what the festival said was a deliberate attack aimed at overwhelming the system. Eventually things looked up, first for the press and then for industry pass holders, although the convenience of being able to take advantage of the free time to join screenings on the spur of the moment is unfortunately missed.
As for the COVID-19 pandemic, it led to the cancellation of the 2020 festival and the reduction of last year’s event, which required many attendees to take tests every 48 hours. This year, the restrictions have been lifted, but each screening begins with a recorded announcement that says “we strongly recommend” that viewers keep their masks on – an empty request, it seems, because no more than a handful of people in every theater wear masks at all.
With no official rules, the recorded warnings don’t seem to urge anyone to cover their faces, though they do make more than one of us wonder if we’re part of a safe event or a super-spreader event.
In the midst of all this, of course, there is an ongoing film festival. As the first weekend draws to a close, it’s impossible to say what the overall personality of the festival will be, as many of the top films have yet to screen. High-profile films that will screen between Sunday evening and the end of the festival next Saturday include Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis”, David Cronenberg’s “Crimes of the Future”, Kelly Reichardt’s “Showing Up”, “Tori and Lokita” from the Dardenne brothers, Claire Denis’ “Stars at Noon” and Brett Morgen’s David Bowie documentary “Moonage Daydream”, among many others.
For the first few days, this year’s films were scattered: the remake of Michel Hazanavicius’ zombie comedy “Final Cut” one day, followed by “Top Gun” sharing the Grand Théâtre Lumière the next with “Tchaikovsky’s wife” of Russian dissident Kirill Serebrennikov. a rich, dark look at the cheated (and ultimately insane) woman who made the mistake of falling in love with a famous composer who also happened to be gay.
A few small films attracted attention in the Un Certain Regard section and in the Cannes appendices, including the disturbing “Harka” by Lofty Nathan, the elegant “Return to Seoul” by Davy Chou and several films by female directors, including “Riley Keough and Gina Gammell” War Pony”, the raucous “Rodeo” by Lola Quivoron, “Corsage” by Marie Kreutzer and “More Than Ever” by Emily Atef. These last two films have made ‘Phantom Thread’ actress Vicky Krieps one of the undisputed stars of the festival so far, with a lot more of that quintessentially Cannes DNA running through her work than you’ll find, say, in Tom Cruise.
George Miller’s “Three Thousand Years of Longing”, meanwhile, occupied a singular space in its own right, mixing extravagant fantasy sequences with a conversation in a hotel room between two remarkable actors, Tilda Swinton as a “narratologist” who content to live on her own while she analyzes the narrative for a living, and Idris Elba as a century-old Djinn (you can call him a genius if you like) who would like her to make three wishes and set him free.
And in a strange way, perhaps the festival’s boldest move came from its oldest director, 84-year-old Polish legend Jerzy Skolimowski. His “Eo” is a largely dialogue-free road movie whose central character is a donkey crossing Europe. The film’s story may be an homage to minimalist Robert Bresson, who made his own donkey film in 1966 with “Au Hasard Balthazar”, but Skolimowski uses raw, experimental camerawork and sound design to dive viewers into an approximation of the poor beast’s experience. .